Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's been almost a year

Since Dan Fogelberg died. Today at work, while the sky gets blotted out by the ashes of wildfires, I stumble upon web pages about Dan Fogelberg. I am reading posts from his website, announcing that he has cancer, thanking fans for their support, up to the posting from his wife that he has died. In February of 2008, Jean Fogelberg arranged to have the last song that he recorded, a love song from him to her as a Valentine's Day gift that arrived at her door via FedEx while Dan was out of state, to be available via itunes. I don't necessarily enjoy anything after the very early 80's that he recorded, but I certainly enjoyed the story behind this one. The transparency that existed in his life toward the end, and after his death, is a stark contrast to what a private person he had been. I can only assume that when dealing with an imminent death, having a large outpouring of support from fans must be a wonderful thing. Unfortunately most of us will never know, as the majority of people slip into death without so much as a murmur. Don't know what I'm going for here exactly, other than it's still hard for me to hear his music without getting teary, which is very odd because I have never thought that celebrity was worth anything, and it's not like I especially idolize Dan Fogelberg. I guess his music was just really important to me growing up, and that includes going through my 20's, and well it makes me sad. To see that the words spoken in his songs, at least as far as an outsider could tell, appear to reflect the man that he was. For whatever reason, this stands out as being very special to me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Since we made History on Tuesday

I suppose I should talk about it.

Having had little or no opinion of Barrack Obama until very late in his campaign, I cannot be accused of one of his "supporters", but I quickly came to appreciate his public person. He appears witty, warm, and gracious. This is a huge step up from the Bush Presidency, and is even miles away from the McCain campaign. During debates, Obama and Biden would look their competitors in the eyes, while in return they were largely ignored.

Policy issues aside, (for I cannot imagine being represented by a US President that was in line with policy I would like to see), this man who was elected on Tuesday, appears to be a man of character. Not the bulllshit kind of bought and paid for by daddy character, humility and politeness are vanishing values, that were once considered to be fundamental to America, but have been lost along the way.

In short, I neglected my homework Tuesday night as I compulsively hit the refresh button on my internet browser to see the latest updates. A day that began with me feeling small hope for change in our country, ended with me at the Mexican Restaurant across the street, drinking a beer and watching the first black President of the United States give an acceptance speech. I don't claim that Obama will fix everything, in fact the country has been so effectively run into the ground over the past few administrations that most likely no one could fix things, but at least we have something different.

And after eight years of constant anger, frustration, sadness and disappointment, I will gladly take something different.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It doesn't take much these days

to bring me to tears. I'm not talking about the sad, "woe is me" kind of tears, but rather the sort that burst forth from an appreciation for life and the human experience. Be it watching Joe Cocker videos from Woodstock, or walking away from a conversation with the nerdiest kid in school who simultaneously has a wonderful grasp on the world he lives in, but still the naivete to think he's got it more figured out than he really does.

I know I have written this sort of thing before. But lately I have felt compelled to reiterate things like this, which has led me to wondering who exactly I believe my audience is. Frankly, I think I write to a few specific people, whom I know will never read this. But it's not the being heard that drives the writing, it's just the speaking. So if I have anything to speak about lately, it's that life is absolutely beautiful, even when it appears to be absolutely ugly.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My kitchen is calling to me

After three weeks of living in my new apartment, I finally bought a refrigerator. No more eating out for me for a while. This morning I felt inside the fridge which I plugged in last night. Cool. Cold. Inside the kitchen the brand new gas stove is against the entryway wall, and then next to this is where I put the fridge. As I walked by I noticed that the heat created by the pilot light of the stove gets trapped between the wall and the fridge and hovers over the stove. It was as though the stove was telling me "I'm ready. Are you ready? I think you are. Let's make hamburgers"

My reaction was almost one of fear, as I have felt with each new thing that I have done in this apartment. "No, no, I don't take showers in you, I take showers in my OLD shower". "Not anymore you don't, get the fuck in here and wash yourself off". So it is with the idea of cooking in this new space. Even though this was one thing I was excited about when moving in, I am weary of it. However, my need to eat will over-ride this.

So what am I going to make first? Bake a chicken? Grill some pork chops? Cheeseburgers? Mom's Tacos? I'll let you know.

Finding the beauty in the small moments

My life has been considerably hectic over the last two or three months. A lot of portions of my life have seen an end, opening up a whole new world of experience. The task of moving out of one apartment and into another was overwhelmingly exhausting. I have had to reflect on its affect on me at several points, because, it's just moving. Everyone has to do it. I can't explain exactly why but for some reason, for me, this one was tough. But it's done. I live in a small room, with hardwood floors, and a loft bed that the kitten bounds up the ladder and into at least 6 times each night. Sometimes she comes up to say hello, sometimes she stays and awkwardly sleeps on some portion of my body. The kitten, and her emotional state have become an outlet for my emotional state. If she cries, I get to comfort her, instead of listening to myself cry with no one around to comfort me. It's a fair trade off.

Even in this transitionary time, there have been moments of absolute, pure joy in my life. If I can say something positive about myself and who I am, it is that I can recognize and appreciate these moments no matter what else might be going on in my life. This was not always the case with me. There are moments where I witness some small part of human experience that seems so real, so honest, that I instantly grasp that moment and savor it. It can be something as simple as a witty political quip from "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" to a touchy and heartfelt story from "This American Life" that makes me tear up as I drive down the freeway.

Last night I had one of these moments, and it lasted for ninety minutes. My old instructor from Fullerton College, Charles Leavell, was giving a presentation to the Sea and Sage Audobon Society in Irvine about his trips to Australia. Sitting in the auditorium I am faced with fellow students from that class, and other instructors from the Life Sciences Department with whom I shared many weekends out in the Southern California Deserts. As the director opened the meeting with a joke about birding field guides, a smile so wide forced itself onto my face and I distinctly felt a sensation of place and purpose that has been missing from my life. Hearing Leavell tell of his adventures, often utilizing jokes and puns for the next hour or so left me feeling better than I have in months, since being in Italy really. The ease and grace with which this man educates people, with no front or pretense, is absolutely inspiring to me, and it has been since I first took his classes, and followed him around the desert and the mountains.

I remember the first day of our first field session inside Joshua Tree National Park. We stodd on a hill overlooking a small gully as he told us of plants, birds, reptiles. It was all so serious, and so exciting. The next thing that came out of his mouth endeared me to him instantly. It was about kit foxes, who, as he said "are threatened with extinction. Which is a good thing, (several students look puzzled at each other) because their face is so cute, that if you saw one your brain would melt and run out of your head." I am sold on this over 6 foot Scandanavian man with a paunch.

Last night I revisited this moment over and over as he describes the mating habits of Australian birds, and always ends with "and the ladies really love this dance he does" or "he collects blue things to put around the nest cause he knows that is her favorite color". Always anthropomorphizing, frowned upon by much of the scientific community, but also a clear and beautiful reflection of this man. And you can find these things in almost anyone if you take the time to look. Even the people who annoy you. Even people who are into Rockabilly. Maybe.

The point is that I left last night invigorated on my studies. Still unsure of what it is I want to do, other than knowing that I want to teach history, and I want to teach Natural History, and I want to do it in the field. I have spent so much time being concerned with trying to get out of Southern California, but there are parts of this place that resonate with me so strongly I don't know that I ever want to leave. Maybe I just need to get to where I can be surrounded by those parts more often. I digress. Last night was one of those moments, and it stretched out over time. It was beautiful, and it was yet just another reminder that life is beautiful, and the end of it is always around the corner. So instead of sitting inside the office today, I am going to go sit outside and listen to the birds sing, and see if I can sing back.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another Year...

and a load of the same bullshit.

I started school this week and within an hour of being on campus I witnessed the following exchange:

Woman with clipboard - "Sir are you registered to vote?"

College Schlumpf - "Vote for what?"

Unfortunately, this is nowhere near as frustrating as the crap that one goes through trying to attend Long Beach City College, at the hands of the school administration.

This is my 4th semester. I found out within 24 hours that I:

- would not be elligible for EOPS ( a form of state financial aid that gives me a book grant and priority registration) next semester
- should have received my book grant this term, but for some reason didn't. Sorry, we'll try and fix that this week.
- needed to stand in line to get an add number, even though all of our registration is done online. Which led to
- standing in another line, to fill out a second piece of paper, with the same info from the first form from the first line, and take both forms to a desk where I was enrolled in the class, but told I
- did not pay my fees. Yes I did, on campus, last week. Go upstairs and wait in a line at the cashier to find out I
- did pay my fees. yes, I know.
- finally got my book grant, for some reason this semester it was two hundred dollars, my books cost close to four hundred dollars.

Best of all, I thought I had done my best to research my instructors for these classes, to ensure that I wouldn't be stuck with any basket cases. For some reason, in spite of my research (which I have since gone back and double checked to make sure I hadn't switched up instructors on accident) I still wound up with two basket cases.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

You know, just another Saturday night...

after a ten hour day of helping my brother clean out the parents garage in near one hundred degree heat, I left to head home as the sun sunk just below the horizon.

Exhausted, near delirious, I sought the only thing I could think of to pump life back into my veins...

Electric Light Orchestra.

Starting with the Xanadu soundtrack and ending up as I pulled into my garage in Long Beach with "Don't Bring Me Down", I transversed the road with my windows down, fist pumping out the window and the volume as high as I can get with me singing along as loud as I can. I think about what a spectacle I must be, and am only saved the sensation of embarrassment by the thought of myself walking down the street in my city and seeing some dude with a beard screaming along to ELO as he drives down 4th Street, pumping his fist in the air.

I walk through the door, feeling nearly human again and I shuck off my clothes, run a beer, pour a bath, and throw on what is without a doubt my favorite album of all time: "Souvenirs" by Dan Fogelberg. Quite a departure from the glossy showmanship of Jeff Lynne, this album provides the exact complimentary mood for taking a bath by candlelight. I sang along to the whole album while the kitten took turns sniffing the candle on the side of tub and pawing the path water up to her kitten elbow.

I thought that I had lost some of who I was capable of being while separated from my life in Europe, but apparently I am still entirely capable of being awesome.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Welcome Back, Asshole

After two continuous days of travel, I am greeted by United States Customs Officials with a less than gracious tone. It started as I left Alessandria, took a train to Milano, then a bus to the airport, (but not before I had eaten a fantastic Taglitele alla Bolognese) then a plane to London where I hopped another bus to the center of London. Here I had about two hours to down two pints of Kronenbourg in a fantastically authentic looking British Pub (run by French folks) and eat a plate of fish and chips at the Italian restaurant around the corner. For some reason, after 10 PM, the only eating establishments I could find were Italian. Then it is off to another train to the Gatwick Airport where I arrive at 1 AM, 10 hours before my flight, and proceed to "sleep" on the floor until 7am, when I get up and begin the gruelling 14 hour process of going home.

The real fun begins as I land in Charlotte, NC, and get to get off the plane, go through customs where they take our bags off the plane, make us go through security to a thing that puts our bags back on the plane. THE SAME PLANE. From there (security checkpoint), I get to walk directly to the main security checkpoint, to be flagged for a more in depth security checkpoint. Let Freedom Ring!

Even being back in the states, I feel all of the parts of my real life creeping back in. The petty things, like what kind of music people like, or how they dress begins to influence me. Maybe since my level of communication was so low overseas these things never occur to me, but here, they hang on me like a cloud that I cannot shake. I don't really give a shit about this stuff anymore, but it's as though an infection creeps up from American soil and permeates my brain.

Over the last week since being home, this fog has not lifted, but the memory of who I was when all of these unimportant concerns was not a part of my personality has been quickly dying. I could feel it slipping away as I waited to board the plane in London. Amongst friends in Italy, or strangers in Spain, I was happy. Here, I have to go to fucking therapy to try and figure out how to be happy. It's a sad, disgusting and powerful realization that I have known for years by the name of all of it's obscure manifestations, that are only made clear with the sharp contrast of a different life so clear in my memory. I really hate it here.

Dramatic I know, but it's true, and it has been for a long time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lower the Heavens

My last night in Italy is spent amidst a tempest the likes of which I have yet to witness. The friends that are in town; Max, his brother, Lucca, Fabio (the Kyuss) and his lady all meet at the Gnocci Palace (this is not it's real name, but the name given to it by Craig from Inside, nine years ago) for a last meal of pizza and an appetizer of proscuitto with a large ball of Buffalo Mozzarella. Everyone is run down after last night, where there was much drinking and pizza eating. I lost count of my beers after the two glasses of Knob Creek bourbon that could be found at the pizza place. All I know of last night is that "The Captain", a friend of Max's who is in fact a Captain in the Italian Army, drove me home at two or so, and I proceeded to feel aweful all night long. I awoke to find Max outside, eager to drive his brother and I to Chinese food, which was fantastic but my body was in no mood. I had them bring me back to Paolo's house where I laid around the rest of the day.

Which brings me to the end of dinner, as we all stand outside, the rain pouring down as movie magic thunder and lightning illuminate the sky and rip open the air. I always thought that the storms shown in horror movies from Europe were exaggerating, but no, one flash after another of lightning made me feel as though I was at risk of being knocked out of my shoes and left half braindead due to the metal keys in my pocket. To supress the fretting, I smoke my new pipe, bought in Alessandria yesterday. I think it suits me more than my previous pipe.

Then it's time to make the mad dash to the car, where everyone piles in to take me home and say goodbye. After another two weeks spent in this country, and this town, the goodbyes are more solem, more heartfelt, and more intent on not showing how much we all wish it could go on, and how much we feel for each other.

And upstairs, from Paolo's apartment balcony, I watch as the heavens are indeed lowered.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Quick One While He's Away

Before I forget the events that comprised the night, I should record them.

It was said that Kyuss (real name Fabio, cousin of Lucca and local awesome dude) had a fix on a restaurant that would serve the local delicacy, donkey ravioli, if given advanced notice. Two days ago, in Brescia, we gave said notice and I thought little else of it.

I spent my last hours in Brescia walking the streets, eating a fantastic home-made meal of pasta noodles with peccarino cheese and home made olive oil from Sicily. Then it was off to the train station, for a three and a half hour ride back to Alessandria, where I will spend my last few days in Italy.

Upon arriving, we are picked up by Max and his apparent life partner (or rather, assigned drinking buddy) and Tommaso, Max, Drinking Buddy and I meet Kyuss, his girlfriend and Lucca in the city square of Alessandria. I am thinking we are going to a place in Alessandria, but it turns out, we take an hour long drive out into the country, amidst vineyards, sunflower groves and stop next to a castle at a quaint little place owned by an elderly couple. Kyuss's girlfriend has arranged all of this, so we sit back and relax (with her hound dog) while the restaurant, which we have to ourselves, prepares the table. I knew that the old woman cooked all the food, and I knew that they bought and prepared donkey especially for us, but i had no idea what was in store. Let me list off the courses:

- Pork Sausage that was unbelievably good.
- Omlette with some kind of greens, served cold, also fantastic.
- Carpachio (raw beef, sliced paper thin) with olive oil and parmessian reggiano cheese.
- Pulpo (Octopus) salad. Fantastic.
- Grilled red and yellow peppers topped with olive oil.
- Sardines with vinegar.
- Some kind of fish in Manyonaise (which the Italians make with lemon, giving it a wholly different flavor than in the states.)
- Home Made ravioli stuffed with stewed donkey meat, and tossed with a ragu of donkey. The meat is lean and tender and rich, I can't believe we don't eat this in the states. The ravioli pasta was every bit as good as the filling.
- Local cheese served with local honey.
- Donkey loin stuffed with parma ham. Also fantastic but by this time I thought I was going to explode.
- A plate full of grilled shrimp and fried calamari.
- Grilled zuchinni.
- Followed with a cake that was similar to pound cake, one plain, one with apples.

This was all accompanied by local wine from the vineyards outside, both red and white, of which I had both, two different liquors and a cup of cafe at the end. By the end of the night, I was drunk on food and wine, and teary eyed at the hospitality I was shown while in Italy. I met these folks ten years ago, and here we are, with a special evening arranged for me. It was humbling, beautiful and filled with laughter and love.

As we drove home, I spent the little time i had left with Tommaso before he leaves for a wedding tomorrow engrossed in conversation, while Max drove wildly through the woods listening to George Michael, Abba and Lil' John. What a day, what a life.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Meal Out

Since in Italy, I have passed streets named Galileo Galilei, Amerigo Vespuci, and last night I ate at a restaurant named Vasco De Gama. I had spotted this place the first day that I walked through Brescia, and it caught my eye because the inside was old exposed brick, heavy wooden exposed beams in the ceilings, and simple wooden chairs and tables. Tommaso had not been here, so we went to eat there.

Tommaso had a first pasta course, that consisted of a meat and local cheese filled tortelini that was mind blowing delicious. I passed up the horse steak and had hand made pasta tossed with a ragu of ground pork. While this was cooked fantastically, and tasted every bit as good as it was crafted, my main course of pork loin medallions that were covered in a locally crafted cheese crust made almost die in extacy. I have NEVER had pork as good as the stuff I have eaten in Spain and Italy. Simply phenomenal food, and good company marked my one fancy dining out experience in Brescia.

Tonight I will cook Steak and Tommaso will make Risoto. While I am looking forward to this last meal in Brescia, I must admit that I am very excited about tomorrow night, where the clan from Alessandria has been hard at work securing a local eatery that makes the donkey ravioli. Apparently, they had to make a reservation so that the old woman who cooks the food here has enough time to purchase and prepare the donkey. I'm half excited to eat, and half heart-broken at the lengths these people will go to please me, when all it takes is a glass of beer and a simple pasta al pesto.

I have to go explore the rest of the castle now and talk to my old friend, the bird.


The city of Venezia is absolutely indescribable. While I have been reluctant to visit tourist laden cities (with good reason, you get the worst food, pay the most for it and are often treated poorly to boot), Tommaso had a point when he says there is nothing like this city in all the world. And he's right.

You step off of the train and walk outside and immediately you stand before the canals of Venezia. From here the stream of tourists wisks you down the street, over countless bridges that cross the ever narrowing canals, all the while the three story buildings seem to close in above you as the streets become as narrow as the canals. The effect on the senses is stunning. If you can get past the crowds and the merchants eager to cheat you out of whatever may lie in your pockets, the city itself is a time portal. The irony is that the crowds have facilitated this upkeep, while deminishing the charm of the city at the same time.

Still, I must say, that Venezia is a place worth visiting, as it is indeed, one of a kind.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Slip Slidin' Away - Paul Simon

I know a man
He came from my home town
He wore his passion for his woman
Like a thorny crown
He said Delores
I live in fear
My love for you's so overpowering
I'm afraid that I will disappear

I know a woman
Became a wife
These are the very words she uses
To describe her life
She said a good day
Ain't got no rain
She said a bad day's when I lie in bed
And think of things that might have been

And I know a father
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he'd done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information's unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we're gliding down the highway
When in fact we're slip slidin' away

Slip slidin' away
Slip slidin' away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you're slip slidin' away

Why Don't You Stay Home Where You're Loved - Nina Nastasia

It's high time to make a move
Things might not get better
There, I said it
The last time you were feeling like this
You left with a light coat and near froze to death

Why don't you stay home where you're loved
Where you'll never be hungry or lost - no stranger, we

Not much I can think of
We cut down the oak last year
I know you can't stay very long
But why do you run and run
The children you won't recognize
They're growing so fast
I can't keep up, keep up

Why don't you stay home where you're loved
No danger here left to feel

Why don't you stay home where you're loved
Where you'll never be hungry or lost - no stranger, me


Today I ventured a little trip by bus and train* to Verona, the city with Roman ruins where Romeo and Juliette takes place. It was a nice train ride, merely an hour from Brescia, and a short walk into the center of town that is surrounded by a Roman wall, and the city center itself is build around the ruins of a Roman Arena that still functions as an Opera and concert hall. I spent only a few hours in the city before heading back, but not before drinking a beer and having a bit of pizza.

I had time on the train back to reflect on music that I have been moved by during my trip, and I began to formulate my mix that will be put up once I am back in the states. Paul Simon and Nina Nastasia still make me weep, but now they do so as I sit on a stone, centuries old that is the remenant of a wall that surrounds Verona. I realized that the question has never been am I running, the question has been am I running to, or am I running from?

* I have found over and again that the simplest tasks in a country where you do not speak the language are incredibly difficult, and ones that are taken for granted everyday. When I first arrived in Madrid, I would set small goals for myself, such as "today I must buy soap" and so on. In this way I was able to keep myself from being completely overwhelmed. Mastering the Metro system in Madrid was a breeze, but even that was done in small increments. The Italian train system is COMPLETELY different, and quite confusing to me. So the fact that I negotiated both train and bus in one day on my own, is something that I will hold close to me as I fall asleep tonight. Simple yes, but important.


The last few days have found me in the small town of Brescia with my friend Tommaso. This town is fantastically beautiful, with cobblestone streets that wind tightly to and from the different plazas, all under the shadow of a castle that sits atop the hill overlooking the entire area. There is a monestary from the 6th Century, a vineyard at the castle that produces a very specific and unique wine due to the stones that the castle is made of decomposing and leaving nutrients in the soil that are found in no other vineyards.

I have eaten fantastic pizza here and even better meals prepared by my professional translator friend. I spent an afternoon up at the castle exploring the stone paths which overlook the entire city. I purposefully left areas unexplored so that I may go back and see them another day. I sat on a bench for an hour and let the wind blow around me, and set about the business of thinking as a verb.

On my way out of the castle grounds, I overheard a bird making a particular call. It was a simple whistle that went up in pitch right at the end. I found that I could easily imitate the call and I spent about a half an hour "talking" with this bird, who never left his perch of the iron railing that surrounds the castle, a mere two meters from me. Every day should be spent in such a lovely fashion, and for me, every day in Brescia is spent this way.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

So What?

For an unknow reason, this phrase triggers giggles and outright laughs from my Italian friends whenever I utter it. Thusly, I utter it often.

I feel that my writing has not been just to my time in Italy. Now I sit listening to muxtapes (on which I will post a choronological musical account of my travels when I return to the states) and reflecting on what might have been a perfect day to top off a near perfect previous three days.

Since arriving here on Wednesday, Paolo and I sleep until about 1 pm every day, make some sort of pasta meal and beer for lunch, then generally take a nap in the near 100 degree heat. I am sleeping in Paolo's room while he sleeps in his roommate's in her absence. Then when it begins to cool down, we shuffle off to the center of town, which I remember in snippits from my trip here ten years ago. We have eaten pizza every night for dinner, which makes me so happy I can hardly find the words to express my emotion. Then it's off to the Four Bears Pub to drink until we stumble home, ready to do it again.

However, last night was different in that it reunited me with another longtime friend of Alessandria, Tommaso. We met up after dinner at the pub (dinner was at the new pizza place owned by a co-worker of Paolo's who he refers to as the "Pizza Master", and it's true. If his pizza is lacking anything, it is the use of a seasoned oven as his place has been open a mere two weeks, and he was so excited to have an American present. I will dream of this place when I return stateside.) Seeing Tommaso again brought back a flood of emotions, as he is one of the kindest people I have ever met. We talked at the pub, drank too many beers and I smoked one of his hand-rolled cigarrettes, which made me feel like dying.

Today, Poalo, Tommaso, Chiara (Tommi's girlfriend) and two friends, one of which is an Italian actor and his French girlfriend Marion all went out to see another of my old friends Lucca, who lives in the country with his wife and new baby boy. Lucca's "new" house is what you would call a fixer-upper, and he has been fixin her upper for 2 years now, but it is still nowhere near ready to be inhabited. We sat outside on the grass, had a picnic of meats and bread and ice cream and beer for what seemed like hours that I drank in as preciously as the warming beer. I held a crying baby as Lucca looked ready to tear up, and talked with Marion about California as she manufactured a bracelet out of the weeds in the grass.

When you have no place you need to be, it becomes much easier to appreciate what is right in front of you. Friends, who emminate love regardless of language barriers, sunrays hiding behind an Italian villa, waiting for you to change the position of your looking so that they can jump out and blind you, the smell of the breeze, and a sense of belonging that cannot be explained by words. My conversations with Pielu ( "the actor") were precious. As we left the country to head into the nearest province for dinner, my conversations with Tommaso turned to the heavy sort of political\philosophical sort that make you appreciate people who can do so in a language not their own, and make me feel slightly embarrassed that I have such a poor grasp of any language save that of my mother country. My talks with Tommaso over the last two days have left me with the realization that my disdain towards my fellow countrymen and my reluctance to consider myself a tourist are perhaps overinflated and not as important as I believe them to be.

Dinner consists of: Pasta with truffles, white wine, salad with thin slices of meat, cheese and greens with lettuce and olive oil, bread, another cheese platter with fresh honey to dip the cheese into (never would have thought of this, but I could kiss whoever came up with it), thin slices of roast beef and a finisher of ice cream and coffee.

All of this occurred between Lucca and I telling each other how much we loved each other and how happy we were to see each other, with Tommaso as the translator. It sounds so silly, but was completely genuine. Each conversation with these people seems better than the last. We make plans for their visit to California, our for future business ventures that rely upon my relocating to Italy. While I enjoyed my time in Madrid more than I probably even realize, these last few days have been some of the most precious I can remember.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things made at home in Italy

Linguini with Pesto Sauce

Gnocci with Four Cheese Sauce

Spaghetti ala Carbonara (Panchetta cooked in olive oil, then added to spaghetti noodles with butter and put back over the fire with two eggs cracked into the mixture) and Peccarino Cheese.

So far, the Pesto wins, but the Carbonara is a close second and will be attempted back home. It's like Italian ham and eggs, with pasta.


You know, just so you know

Peperoni in Italian is nowhere near what it is in English. I thought last night I would branch out a little and get one topping on my pizza. Sure, let's see what Italian peperoni is. Well, turns out it is red pepper. It took me ten minutes to explain what it was in English and they couldn't get past how ridiculous this was because the word peperoni in Italian means exactly one thing, and that is a red pepper.

For as much as I hate those little buggers, once I had peeled them off my pie, I found that the flavor of Italian peppers is much more subtle, and left a nice hint of pepper on my cheese pizza.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Food to break your heart

I have been in Alessandria for 2 hours before Paolo and I walk to the grocery store where we purchase: pasta, gnocci, pesto sauce, bread, peccarino cheese, eggs, beer and wine. We get back to his place and make the pasta and prepackaged pesto sauce. The first bite was pure bliss. In all honesty, the packaged stuff you can buy at the grocery store here is better than what you could pay 20 dollars for in the best restaurant in the states. I inquired about this and was told that it is because the food, even if sold packaged, is made from quality, regional ingredients.

After my pasta induced nap and a shower where your only option is to sit in the bottom of the tub and hose yourself off with a ridiculously short hose (thus the sitting), we walked to the center of town, which immediately brought me back to 1998. We ate pizza at the same place I had ten years ago, and it was also heartbreakingly fantastic. The combination of cheese and olive oil is indecribable. I walked into the bathroom to face my old nemesis, the skid plate toilet. I was told later this was called a "Turkish Style" toilet, that consists of a porcelin basin set into the ground, with skidplates to place your feet upon as you lean back against the wall with your hand and let the bombs fly. Were I a military bomber pilot, I would have taken out Los Angeles trying to hit San Francisco. Sure in one case you destroy the wrong city, but in the other case you completely miss the hole in the ground with stinky results that you then have to clean up after yourself. SO I guess in that regard I am nothing like a military bomber.

Having slain the old beast that is the Turkish Toilet, it was time to begin drinking in the local bar. After a few beers a terrible Blues Hammer cover band started up, and I forced Paolo to leave. Speaking of Paolo, let me introduce my Italian host. He's about may stature and unshaven, and he's played in emo, indie, hardcore, metal and grind bands, as well as doing solo hip hop for over ten years. Walking around town with Paolo one would think that he is a god. Every young person in this city is in a band or fucking someone in a band, and Paolo knows them all.

And, they were all at the pub. Where after our drinks we had cafe, a horrible idea at one in the morning. We stumbled home and I enjoyed several hours of non sleepy cafe induced nothingness. It was nice because I had time to reflect on the local dish that I had inquired about, which I was told is a sort of ravioli made with donkey meat stewed in wine. Bring it. You bring me that donkey and I will eat it.

Adios Espana, Pronto Italia!

My last night in Spain was fairly uneventful. I walked with some girls from my hostel dorm down to the ocean and sat on the pier watching lightning flashes rip across the sky. I smoked my pipe, then ate Chinese food, then went to bed. When I awoke for my last few hours in Barcelona and Spain, I was completely unmotivated, so I lay in bed as long as I could stand it. When I finally roused myself I headed for the port where the Aquarium is located.

The aquarium was fantastic. It wasn't so much what they had as it was the ways in which they displayed their treasures of the sea. I saw the garden eels that Katie and I like so much back in Long Beach, I saw the most beautiful fish I have ever laid eyes on, the Ornate Wrasse, and I hung out and watched penguins swim around for an hour. I made sketches of guitar fish, and I saw the coolest interactive exhibit, a huge sperm whale whose mouth is the opening to an underwater cave where you are met with a horrifying giant squid who is about to eat your face off. This portion didn't make much sense, and I cannot adequately describe it, but it was done in the style of the Injun Joe's Cave at disneyland. As you walk through the winding cave, you encounter other deep sea creatures that are equally fascinating. But I will not soon forget going from the mouth of the cave\whale and seeing a tentacle at eye level, then turning the corner to come face to face with the giant open beak of a the Architeuthis.

Leaving Barcelona was a chore as I got lost going to the train station. I wound up taking a cab after foolishly walking the wrong way out of the metro for blocks with about a half hour to spare before the train left. I had enough time to sit in the train station bar and have two beers and my last pork bocadillo (sandwich) in Spain. I made it onto the train and met my elderly Italian compartment mates before heading off to the train bar. I met a man, who was quite possibly the most attractive guy I have ever seen. He was from Mexico, working in Switzerland. We shared 4 beers and talked about Mexican, American and California history before I teeter tottered my way back to my bunk, where I proceeded to not sleep until 4 am.

At Torino it was time to transfer trains. A new country, a new language I don't speak. Without the kindnes of strangers, I would not only have missed my connecting train, but I wouldn't even have realized I had a connecting train. But finally, I arrived in Alessandria.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Lightning Breaks the Sky

Last night Spain won the Eurocup 2008 and Barcelona went ape shit.

I spent the night in my hostel bed, sweating miserably and counting down the hours until I could get my new powder blue short shorts to the beach (with gold flojos to boot).

This morning I woke up (still wearing said shorts) and headed out to the open market with some friends from the Madrid trip. It wasn´t as interesting as I had hoped, minus the goat heads in the butcher shops.

After much debate over lunches, I was on my way to stand before the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I shucked off those gold flip flops and dove into a body of water foreign to me. It felt fantastic, with as hot as it has been in Barcelona (I´m sure Madrid is even worse, being possibly to Spain what Fresno is to California) I was truly in need for a little swim. I floated around in the salty water for a bit, then went and laid on my towel and thought to myself "topless beaches are kind of like movie theaters where they have a bar", in that once you have been to one, a regular beach just seems kind of silly.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


My first impression of Barcelona was clouded by the fact that I stumbled into it at 8 am on a Sunday, after having slept very little in my train sleeping compartment. I don´t know if it was the motion that kept me awake, or simply the old man who stumbled in about 2 am and insisted on talking to everyone, only to fall out of a compartment about 5 feet off the ground in the middle of the night. Whatever it was, I didn´t sleep well. My hostel is right on the Las Ramblas strip, which empties into the harbor after about 8 blocks. The location couldn´t be better, but the problem is that this place is a swimming sea of tourists.

I got coffee at a cafe for breakfast (I couldn´t check in until 1 PM) and the next thing I knew, ever seat around me was filled with snickering tourists from the midwest, speaking in accents that make them sound as if education was as foreign to them as the idea of attempting to speak to someone, anyone, in Spanish. I know it´s hard to jump into a language, but the menu is printed in English AND Spanish, so you pretty much have it spelled out for you. I know you can read the Spanish part, because when the waiter is gone you whisper to your husband "eggs...huevos, toast....tostada..." and then giggle like a child as if to say "Isn´t their language just so cute?". This probably played a large part in my waiter stiffing me for my dollar change, assuming that I was unaware of the tipping practices in Spain. It also probably explains why my coffee and toast was eight Euros.

But I must say, despite the tourist vibe, the city is beautiful, with wonderful Gothic architecture everywhere. I hit the port and strolled down the boardwalk that leads to a floating shopping mall, huge movie theater and a large aquarium. I looked into the water to see fish, about a foot and a half long, swimming in large schools and a tennis ball sized jellyfish (Medusa in Spanish).

Tonight, despite being dead tired, I want to try and go out to a restaurant and watch the game. Spain is in the finals of the Eurocup against Germany. Germany is favored to win, but Spain beat them just a week or so ago, and if they win tonight, I expect all hell will break loose. It has been such an exciting spectacle to watch Spain advance this far in the Cup, as every resident of the country celebrates each victory.

Tomorrow it is the open vegetable and fish market, then I will dive into the Mediterranean Sea, and finish the day with a fine meal. Tuesday I plan to go to the aquarium as I cannot resist it´s treasures of the sea, and I have not really splurged on much this trip (minus piglett), and aquariums are sort of my thing. Speaking of, I am still fascinated by "20,000 Leagues", which it turns about, is basically documenting the adventures of a naturalist of the sea. The whole motivation for the Dr. staying with his captor for life on board the Nautilus, is because he has a chance to see so much underwater wildlife in it´s native habitat, something unknown to people in the 19th century. It´s absolutely fascinating as this is the bulk of the ficionalized diary entries in the novel. A truly beautiful book.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

One Night In Madrid and the World´s My Oyster...

Last night I spent my last full night in Madrid. I realized as I stared out of the window of the bedroom I have lived in for the past month, watching the trees blow in the breeze as the sun starts to set at about 10pm, that I am going to terribly miss Madrid. I met a couple of the girls out for Chinese (sort of, more like Asian Fusion) food that was fantastic, and Sangria that was not. We decided as we walked out that we simply HAD to have our last Madrid experiece be to go back to the metal bar. There we were greeted by the same huge bartender, only this time the place was packed. There were three types of people in the bar; dude with shaved heads wearing all black, dudes with long hair wearing all black, and the women who loved them. The guy next to me started asking me something in rough tone of voice, and I was stumped for a moment, wondering if this would be my first bar-brawl. Turns out he was asking if we wanted to sit at their table since we had a group and it was just he and his friend. Why are the nicest people in Spain found in the Death Metal bar?

I had to run to the metro to make it home on time. My last long and lonely train ride, bleary-eyed and in love with Madrid. At 4 am when my roommate was picked up to go to the airport, I felt a tinge of panic that I was at last, on my own in a country I hardly knew, with travel plans long ahead of me. But today as I awoke I was filled with nothing but contentment and excitement at what lies ahead.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Piglett

Last night was the most magical eating experience of my life. We ate at Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas, an authentic Spanish restaurant that specializes in Suckling Roast Piglett. Las Cuevas means "the caves" and this is how the place is set up, underground, small rooms that branch off of each other. We had a large party for the birthday of one of the girls in our group, and we had a little cave all to ourselves. The meal began with good bread and little pork sausages. Next we had a plate of mature Manchega cheese, followed by our main course. I knew that my pig would not be a whole pig, and what I got was a leg quarter. To get past the crispy skin, you must crack it with a fork or knife. Once inside, the pork is so tender and juicy that pork juce kept runing down my chin. The skin and fat were even better than roast duck, rich and crispy. I can honestly say I have never tasted anything as wonderful as this in my life. I ate the entire leg quarter and was sad that it was gone.

Our party had been drinking strong house Sangria for an hour when the musicians came in and I thought we might colapse the building with our clamorous appreciation of the music. As we stumbled outside, it was pouring rain and there was a fantastic thunder and lightning storm going on. We ran next door to an empty wine bar, where an old man played an accordian and sang. Four Bottles of wine later, I walked out of the metro to stand in the pouring rain and watch the lightning flash. It took me three and a half weeks to open up to our group, but I can honestly say that I wouldn have missed last night for anything.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

So Hamdan says to me...

On the Metro this morning (4PM) on our way to get food (McDonalds, two days in a row, disgusting, but it´s what Hamdan wanted)...

"It´s a good thing you didn´t get drunk last night"

"Absolutely. Apparently you did not hear me singing in my room all night"

"Yes, I did"

That Hamdan is a funny motherfucker. So after our meal of rabbit and potatoes last night, I killed the bottle of white wine (I hardly ever drink wine) and was shocked that I did not feel the slightest bit drunk. Then Hamdan asked what Amstel tasted like, so I cracked open the Litre I had bought (about a 40 oz bottle) and poured us some glasses. After taking one sip, he mad a face like I held him down and farted into his open mouth. Well now the beer was open, and before the night was done I had finished that as well.

Then all of a sudden, at 3 am, I was super drunk. Room-spinning drunk, and it occurred to me that I should be listening to music, since I wanted to read, but I was a critical part of my book and knew I wouldn´t understand what I was reading anyways.

I don´t know what all I listened to, but I remember Sabbath, The Band and the Eagles. I know there was more, and that I managed to listen to a dozen random songs and about three complete albums, it just escapes me at the moment what they were. What I do remember is listening to the Eagles Live record and singing along to Hotel California where I held imaginary conversations in my mind with people at a bar where I dared them to not recognize the genius of the song. It all made perfectly good sense at the time.

Needless to say, I sang along to most of the songs I listened to, for a good two hours. I don´t recall singing loudly, but I do remember singing incredibly well. Had any of you heard me, you would most likely agree.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

For Me This is Heaven

After a somewhat frightening few days, I find myself quite content tonight. I came to the realization yesterday, while trying to book the rest of my train trips and hostels and whatnot that I do not have enough money to do what I need to do. Foolishly, I assumed that if you buy a eurorail PASS that your train trips are PAID FOR. They are not. You have to pay for a seat reservation, and the prices are different depending on where you want to go. Needless to say, just for these reservations, I would have spent more money getting from Italy to Paris to London (where I am flying home) than I have to eat or shelter myself with. This caused me to wake up today in a horrible depression where I was afraid that I would simply lie in bed and weep to myself all day long.

Instead, I was determined to make the situation work somehow. I got up and started booking my necessary hostels, made a budget so that I knew exactly how much I could spend and on what, and I used my roommate's laptop to start looking on the web. Hopefully, with the help of my Italian friends, who are well versed in the cheap ways to travel within Europe, I will be able to make it work.

Now I was free to enjoy the rest of my day. I started by asking our host mother if I could cook dinner, since she does not provide it on Saturdays. Not only did she say yes, but also that she was leaving for the night, and since I was missing a meal on Monday (due to eating roast piglett, remember?) that she would go to the store and purchase whatever I wanted to make. Conejo, I told her. I had a recipe that Hauser sent to me that sounded promising.

I set out to Sol to get something to eat as it was 4PM. I ate at McDonalds, which I know sounds terrible, but I am fast becoming broke and I have yet to have eaten there, so consider it a science experiment. I wasn't looking at porn, just doing research. My findings? Their fries are delicious, the coke is the same, and their ketchup is sweeter than ours, which is kinda gross.

As I made my way to the train station to buy my ticket from Barcelona to Turin, Italy, I passed a guy with a backpack and a GOATSNAKE T-Shirt on. I stopped him and asked where he was from, in Spanish, to which he relplied in Spanish, Why? I laughed and told him it was because of his shirt and after introducing ourselves, we were off to a cafe for beers. He was a sweede who had spent the last year in Argentina and was on his way to some ridiculous metal festival in Europe where Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, AT THE GATES, and just about every other metal band you could think of were playing, if not reuniting specifically for. We had a couple of beers then I had to run off to buy my ticket.

That being done, I stopped to buy some ingredients I had forgotten to tell my Senora about. Lemon juice, white wine, BLACK PEPPER!!!! (I have yet to see the stuff in Spain, and I should have thought to go buy it at the store long ago). I head back home to find a table filled with buther cut rabbit, garlic, onions,potatoes and a baguette and rosemary. One problem, my recipe is for a whole, roasted rabbit, and this one is cut up into pieces. No time to argue, I use what I can from the recipe and set about preparing my veggies and meat. I consider the head, which is split in half, revealing the tongue and brain. Having never had rabbit, I couldn't decide if this was adventurous enough or if I should go full force. I was leaning toward full force, but let my Saudi Arabian roommate, who would be joinging me, decide. He made a face and said "no head". You got it Hamdan!

I melted some butter in a pan, and threw the rabbit that had been washed, dried and covered in butter, inside. I threw in some whole, peeled garlic cloves and some onions. Then I threw in some potatoes. I fried it all up until a nice brown coloring, then I deglazed with some wine and lemon juice. The result, after a bit of fussing, was pretty good. Rabbit has a mild, kind of sweet flavor (which might have come from the wine and lemon juice). I was concerned that I would somehow manage to kill us by doing it wrong, but so far so good.

With any luck tomorrow I will have most of the details for the rest of my trip worked out, and if not, um, I dunno. I guess we'll see when I get there. Until now, I am going to keep drinking this wine, go smoke my pipe (pipa) and fall asleep happily, if only to spite how I woke up.

By the way, for no reason at all today I was singing Jimmy Eat World in my head, and I have discovered that "Twenty Thousdand Leagues Under the Sea" is one of the most exciting books I have ever read, despite knowing full well what happens. This story of high seas adventure has triggered a child-like sense of wonder in me that I can't wait to fall into the arms of as I fall asleep.

Friday, June 20, 2008

\m/ \m/

Went to the metal bar last night. A dark, small joint with the walls painted black, and blacklights offering the only illumination. The bartender was a fat, bald man with a long goatee and a sleeveless black denim vest. One room had a mural of a broadsword sticking down into a grave, amid a backdrop of a mist filled cemetary. The other room was adorned with old (and some new) metal posters, and the benches were small, black rectangles with small white crosses painted on them, and they were made to look like little coffins. It was awesome, and I will be going back tonight, by myself to sit in the dark, listen to metal and brood.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Should have called it "The Nothing(s) Happening"

I have a pretty good score with M. Knight Shayamalan´s films. I liked Sixth Sense (at the time), hated Unbreakable, hated Signs (when I saw it in the theater, but later became fond of it), loved the Village and thought Waterbroad (aka Lady in the Water) was one of the most laughable movies I had ever seen, and not in a good way. So I knew that the Happening (or "El Incidente" in Español, a MUCH better title) could go either way.

Let me assure you, this made Waterbroad seem like oscar material. For starters, the acting and dialogue play a chicken and egg sort of dance, because you can´t tell which is worse, or which started things off on such a horrible journey together. There is one scene that involves people falling off of buildings that was disturbing, and other than that, every single death scene was highly comedic and predictable. However, while the death scenes felt like they were taken from a slasher film where the killer must dispatch the teenagers in a new and different way each time, the premise was, quite simply atrocious.

If you are thinking of seeing this, read no further or you will miss the big twist. There is no big twist. Frankly, I´m thankful for this, but apprently this was M. Knight´s only trick because without it, he gives away halfway through the film that the killer is, wait, not the first time this year even, PLANTS. Not the cell-phone imitating plants from "The Ruins", but even less sinister plants. Whole fields of grass, killers I say. 2008, the year Hollywood ran out of ideas and two moveis, one horror, one a "thriller" (?) feature plants as their bad guys.

I think that at the rate movies are being dummed down, "Ass" will not be the academy award winner of 2505, but instead 2015. Way to suck Hollywood.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Nice Little Sunday

I spent yesterday wandering around Madrid.

It started with lunch with one of the Mississippi boys, and of course we went to the AMERICAN THEMED RESTAURANT. I was immediately embarrassed to be there; the Spanish waitresses had to wear checkered shirts and COWBOY HATS. I ordered a burger that looked fantastic, and then I bit into it to reveal a light searing on the top and bottom, and an otherwise grisly bloody red and raw serving of ground beef. But I knew this might happen, for even their thin burgers in Spain maintain a nice reddish hue. I glanced around at the other half dozen burgers being eaten within my line of sight, and they were all exactly the same. I proceeded to eat the entire thing (although thick, it was a small sized burger, more like a slider. These Damn Spanish have portions so under their belts, you get to taste food but not stuff yourself full of it). I can help but think of Idiocracy; Carls´ Jr. "Fuck you, Iḿ eating".

I wandered around then looking for a movie theater that shows Los Peliculas En Ingles. I found one, and the only thing that was playing (starting in 4 minutes) was "Be Kind Rewind". Eh, why not, I hadn´t seen it yet. Walking into a movie theater in any country is immediately calming to me. I know what happens in these places, it is a comfortable surrounding for me, and I love seeing movies by myself. I sit through the film. (which starts off HORRIBLY but does get a little bit better towards the middle and then looses it again toward the end. It was completely formulaic but was touted as being "artistic", but I saw the film as a McDonald´s Cheeseburger made out of seared tuna. You might have used fancy ingredients, but itś still the most uninspired burger there is)

Anywho, once that was done I found myself at the beautiful Plaza De España, with a fountain, greens for lounging on (which I did) and some really nice statues. After a while it was back to the house for more reading and dinner. Speaking of which, I have begun "Kitchen Confidential" and can´t put it down. Hearing Bourdain´s tales of drunken, drugged up debauchery in New York kitchens in the 1970´s has made me feel like a complete square. Not in my character I suppose, to score smack and slog it off witha waitress in the dry goods storage, but damn that dude makes it all sound so romantic.

I got the tip on the restaurant Botin, supposedly the world´s oldest operating restaurant where GOYA worked as a dishwasher. After consulting the locals, they insist that itś a tourist trap and will treat almost anyone who walks through the door poorly, so I got a bead on a place like it, charming, old world, yet actually good and pleasant, known as "The Cave". One week from today, count it down, I will be eating a roast suckling pig.

PDA, Alive and Well in Madrid

One cultural phenomenon that has impressed all of us in my group is the propensity the Spanish have for full blown sucking face on the streets. It is common to see people go to say goodbye, and end up with these heated open mouthed kisses. Usually you see one partner grab the other and assault them with their face, which as far as I can tell is always welcomed, or at least never declined. And here I am, pressing myself into a corner of the Metro, farting and hoping no one hears.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oh look, a skinhead, neat, oh cool there's another one, and anoth...oh fuck

I stand outside of one of the many public squares in Madrid as thousdands have gathered to watch Espana play in the world cup on a tv screen a hundred feet wide. I walk past a kid in his late teens with a shaved head and doc martins on his feet, laced with white laces, and I think to myself "I haven't seen a skinhead outside of the US except for those wankers in Berlin" and I am kind of struck with a sense of nostalgia at this lone individual swimming amonst a sea of red and yellow futbol jerseys.

But then I quickly realize that he is not alone. There is another, and another, and then a group of 20, standing down a side street right next to me. My past, unbeknownst to them, catches up with me and I am instantly sweating, trying to read if they have acknowledged my presence. They have not, but I see them scanning the crowd, eyes dark like sharks swimming close to shore. I can sense the juvenile malice and anger creeping off of them. I amtorn out of this by a young girl asking me something in Spanish, I don't know what, and I can't reply because I am moving towards the safety of the metro.

Only moments before I had been at the Archaeological Museum of Madrid, located directly acros the street, looking at ancient Roman artifacts. To say that I was breathless the entire time does the sight little justice. But now I am trying to get away from that public square and I find myself not at the metro, but at a bar, ordering a tall glass of beer.

I sit outside and immerse myself in my new book, "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain, and already in one day I have read a hundred pages and laughed out loud a dozen or more times. I am listening to The Streets, as I found their combination of urban-ness and European-ness to be the perfect acoompaniment to Madrid that I am listening to them over an over again.

Then I am off again, on the metro, no destination in mind but winding up, in a very roundabout way, Sol once again. I walk in a circle three times, window shopping the different Parrilla's (charred meat restaurants) before sticking with my favorite, where the waiter greets me with a handshake (how can one possibly go wrong). Tonight I go cheap, two glasses of beer, a grilled chorizo and potato wedges, along with that fantastic bread with olive and pepper taupanaude. I think at some point that I have been too earnest and taken the plate of chorizo that was set down at the bar seat next to me, occupied by an old man. Halfway through I realize this when his chorizo comes, but he had ordered first, and I apologize in Spanish. He is kind, and full of laughter and I make somewhat ofa lonely drinking companion of him for the next forty minutes.

Then it is time for the complimentary shot of liquor,that I cannot pronounce, but it is green and does NOT taste of star anise or liquorice, so I take it and suddenly feel as though I have made friens with everyone in Spain. What's left? Call the girlfriend, fall back in love and head out to a different part of the city to have a final beer.

To the more better Irish Pub where I get a pint of Heineken and smoke my pipe indoors, listening to Led Zeppelin. I read more Bourdain and am at this point drunk, sick to my stomach from too much pipe tobacco and I finish my night by stumbling through the maze of the metro, listening to David Crosby and Graham Nash singing "Mama Lion" and "Carry Me".

The group of young women next to me is speaking English, I can see it with my eyes even though my ears hear 2 part harmonies. I take off the headphones and ask in Spanish where they are from. New Zealand. I reflect that I knew English by sight, and give into drunkeness as I ride the metro home, singing along in my head, feeling dizzy, and more alive than I have ever felt before.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Menu Del Dia

Eating in Madrid is quite costly (minus the perritos callientes, or the occasional (excessive) bocadillos (sandwiches) of lacon and queso).

I have found the best deal though is offered almost anywhere you can go, and it's called the Menu Del Dia. Normally priced around 10 Euro (about 14-16 dollars depending on what the current rate is) you get three courses and anywhere from 1-3 drinks, depending on the place.

Yesterday's Menu Del Dia was at the Italian place across the street from school. I had: Risoto with cheese and mushrooms that was so delicious I was delirious, chicken curry with roasted potatoes, home made tiaramisu, and a beer for 10 euro.

The day before? Well that was out in the countyside by Segobriga, so for 13 euro I had: a chicken broth soup with chunks of chicken, ham and noodles, beef skirt steak (from a "baby cow" is all I could figure out), french fries, bottled water and ice cream.

The best thing about the Menu Del Dia is that you often have 3-4 choices for each course or beverage. One bad thing, sometimes you have only one choice of beverage, and that choice is a beer with sprite mixture. Literally, half a glass of beer, topped off with Sprite. I haven't run into this little guy yet, but let's just say I am skeptical.

Skeptical or not, I have refused nothing that has been offered me since crossing the borders of Spain. One other little gem worth mentioning is the Doner Kebab joints that are scattered about Madrid, one of which is also next to school. This is the type of place where there is meat slowly rotating in the window, and once your order is placed they shave some off for a nice little sandwich. By far the cheapest meal I have found here, for 5 euro you get a sandwich (in sort of a flatbread wrap) with chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion and a white sauce that is somewhat of a yogurt sauce, but not really. You also get a can of soda and fries. Needless to say, the Doner Kebab joints have become a favorite of all of us.

A Full Week

This week I watched the Eurocup match between Spain and Russia. I am not one for sports of any fashion, but I do appreciate watching futbol matches, especially in places where the entire country gets up in arms about it. I still think the public's ownership of sports francises is a bunch of nonsense, but it's fun to see everyone pour out into the streets with their red and yellow jerseys on and watching the game for a second time that day at the local bar.

That night I ventured out to he local neighborhood bar and had two beers. This is the sort of place you would imagine in Spain. Far away from any tourist destination, the neighborhood I am living in a bustling working class assortment of high rise apartment buildings with a common space in the center, and ours happens to be graced with a bar on the coner. I watched the owner expertly slice off pieces of jamon and cheese and plate them to his friends / customers. I have not been back since that night, but I will remedy this soon.

The day after was another excursion day, this time to the archaeological dig site of the Roman ruins of Segobriga, and the walled cliffside city of Cuenca that still harbors local residents to this day. While both of these sites (please click on the city names to view google images) were fatastic to visit, and it was a full twelve hour day that left me exhausted, what I found most interesting about this day was that in order to get out of Madrid, we had to pass through a blockade of cement trucks on strike and protesting high petrol prices by parking on the freeways. This strike has been going on all week, and what I find fascinating is that truckers of all goods have come together, the grocery stores have no fresh vegetables, goods are not getting in or out of Madrid, and the freeways are a mess, yet the population supports this action, for now. It's fantastic to see a population that shakes off apathy. I can only imagine the grumbling that results from the gas prices back home, but these people have acted as a community at a local level that has affected all of Spain. I am simplifying this process and the cause and effect nature of the argument purposefully. I am not commenting on the politics or the actions taken, I am commenting on the willingness to simply act.

This weekend I will be alone in Madrid as my housemates are traveling to Rome, or Barcelona. Luckily one of the Mississippi folks left his laptop and sanctioned my use of it. Tonight I will return to the area I spent last night drinking. This area seems to be where the local 20 somethings hang out. I passed by a death metal bar last night, perhaps I'll pop my head in there.

A bit more on Julius Winsome

I devoured this novel by Gerard Donovan in two days. Before I send it, certain combinations of words struck me so that I underlined them with a pen, and I wouldto preserve them here:

Such men ... have run out of country they can't live in.

... and it was from hin I learned how to be still.

... a punctuation mark... a crutch for a weak word.

... the cruelty of small towns was so sharp it might be a pencil and you could write with it...

You don't throw a million men away like that.

... walking in and out of the shade like a man in parts...

That was my reading of him...

... because this man was done with shooting ...

I missed my friend.

...the war had bred all the gunnery out of him.

I was of sound mind and an otherwise principled man.

You sit well in that chair, I said.

People come together, people part.

... I lost her in that second.

And she was gone from me.

Perhaps things don't happen for a reason, they happen because people do them.

Sharing my own sadness would not make it less, only double it.

Here, only short sentences and long thoughts can survive...

... the grave is the end of us...

You never say how you feel, but I feel affection everywhere in you.

... people can sometimes come close enough to discover that they are strangers.

... it started with long glances and silence and arrived fully only after she was gone.

They knew me now.

... You came to shoot in the woods, but the woods shot back.

I learned the shape of loss...

... such learning and experience could be switched off like a light.

I was done with shooting.

Such soft skin, such a hard memory.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


All over Madrid I have seen street performers employing fine skills of sleight of hand. I love it, no one on the trip with me seems to care. I saw a guy doing ball tricks like the ones in Labrynth, and people doing coin or card acts go on ignored in Sol.

It´s nice to see that even if no one cares, Spain has the power. The power of the babe.

I have noticed that

all of the books that I have brought with me are stories of travel and adventure.

The Golden Compass has sucked me in completely, as I have become obssessed with the concept of NORTH as of late, and here is this little book, recommemded to me a year before it was turned into a poorly made film, about a little girl´s journey to the North Pole. Phillip Pullman details his fascination with science and magic similarly to Tim Powers, and I was hooked into this tale right away.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Undr the Sea is certainly a tale of exploration and adventure, and while I don´t know the exact subject of the Tim Powers novel that I brought along, I have yet to read any of his work that doesn´t revolve around magic, science and transformation so I´m sure that fits in. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur´s Court is a novel of time travel and scientific innovation.

I realized all of this after I had purchased an additional book in Madrid. I had never heard of the author, an Irtishman named Gerard Donovan. The novel is entitled "Julius Winsome". I stared at the picture on the front, a single set of footprints in the snow, leading to a wooden cabin in a snow-filled clearing in the woods and realized, this is a destination. At that moment I realized that all of my otehr readings were about the journey, and here was the stark contrast, once you wind up in a place like that pictured on the cover, the journey is over, at least for me, and that instantly terrified me.

And it hit me all at once that I have not stayed in one place because I was content, or because I didn´t feel the pull of the journey, but because I was terrified of the destination, which for me feels like isolation. So I tear into Julius Winsome, whom I believe to be at the end of his journey, and I read half of it the first day, being yesterday. What it´s about doesn´t matter so much here (but it matters to me), all I can say is that I am consuming it like I´ve done to no work of fiction in a long time.

I started the trip by finishing a novel about time travel (not the above mentioned time travel novel, a different one). I wrote in the inside cover the city and date that it was finished in, and I left it on a seat in the Phillidelphia Airport. I will leave the Golden Compass in Madrid, and whatever other books I can wherever I finish them. Perhaps they will travel on. But Julius Winsome, that is going to get sent to someone special before it can travel on.

Best Moneymaking Scheme EVER!

The center of Madrid is known as SOL, and it´s sort of like Times Square before it became lame, but I think it´s on its way there. Here you cannot walk 2 feet without running into something to eat, or a street performer. Today I saw the best attempt to take my money.

A dude sits on a cardboard box and reads. You would assume (and you would be correct) that this tactic does not inspire folks to throw money into his cigar box. BUT, you add a little dog, and a KITTEN into the mix, and the dude is raking money in hand over fist.

So this dude reads, and the kitten crawls all over him, then the dog plays with the kitten; picking it up by the scruff of the neck which pisses the kitten off and then she attacks him and they wrestle on teh ground until the kitten runs for cover between said dudes legs. At this point he picks up the kitten and grins at it with a mouth full of empty tooth holes and kisses the kitten and rubs it all over his face. The sheer joy that the man shows for just a second before putting his little fury moneymaker back on teh ground for it to waggle its tail and pounce on the dog makes me feel connected to my home.

I think that if I were homeless, I could probably make money off of my ridiculous love of sniffing my kitten´s belly or throwing a blanket over her to hear her make alien squeaky noises.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Perhaps too literal a translation

I had my first hambrguesa in Spain today. It came with a beef patty, a slice of deli ham and a slice of cheese. It was as if the word hamburger was broken down into its parts of ham+ burger and reassembled; perhaps thousands of years in the future the words were rediscovered and scientists decided to regrow the mighty beast from the DNA of its word origin.

Still, as I am sure we will come to find out with wooly mammoth steaks, the ham + burger was pretty tasty.

Monday, June 2, 2008

And so it goes...

After three days in Madrid I have had my fill of jamon.

I seem to attract the people who want to either drunkenly ramble to me in Spanish on the street, or even better, the young lads who want to express their distaste of tourists. It all comes from traveling around like a herd of cattle on any school-sponsored excursion. I might as well wear blackface to a klan meeting.

The young citizens of Madrid have a style that I find very appealing. People wear jeans and dark sweaters with almost militaristic button up jackets. It's like the old Warsaw style of the late 70's, but updated. Minimalist and functional, yet sleek and well put together.

The metro here is needlessly clean. Not that I don't appreciate it, but Madrid seems to be somewhat of a utopia in that there are city employees who have the job of "cleaner" and who do nothing but clean up the city. I imagine this happened sometime after curing cancer and solving all other problems in Madrid.

An international school is the safest feeling place here, with everyone having English in common. I had good conversations with German and Chinese women today.

I find that my musical taste is taking me back to previous European trips; Fireside, U2, Kent, Radiohead, etc. There's a new dimension of my soundtrack that I can't fully explain, but Paul Simon and Seals and Crofts have been inspiring in me great emotional responses. I may elaborate on Paul Simon later, as I feel that this connection is worth exploring.

Last night we went out to a bar called "Dubliners", an "Irish" pub. The staff spoke English and they didn't serve Guinness. It was neither Spanish nor Irish, and 100% bullshit, apparent from all of the American students around the age of 19 getting trashed and dancing uproariously with each other when the Offspring comes on the sound system. Bourdain probably felt a quick pain in his chest and his right arm went numb for a second out of solidarity.

The grocery store is like heaven. I have never seen such a seafood counter, and the meat department had whole, skinned rabbits. I want to cook a meal here more than anything else.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hot Dogs in Madrid

OK, I realize that eating a street vended hot dog for your first taste of Madrid may not seem like the best thing to do, but you sir, yes you, just try and stand in front of a place with a sign that says "Perritos Calientes" and NOT buy one. Not to mention, they take soft, uncut hot dog buns, stick them on a toaster pole and toast the inside of a hot dog sized hole, then they dip your dog in ketchup and slide it into said toasty hole.

Now that this little treat is out of the way, I am doing to go stand in the middle of SOL, close my eyes, turns around till dizzy, walk straight, and eat jamon at whichever jamon bar I run into.

music of choice for metro ride: U2 - "War"

Saturday, May 24, 2008

This is why I don't eat out in Los Angeles

You'd think that a town with as much going on as LA has, that it would be a mecca for fantastic food. The truth is, it may be, but I can't get past the sense of entitlement that conflicts with the ability to do the job that food servers have in Los Angeles to find out. Last night, I find a great looking diner (although one whose entire identity is built around being run by hipsters) and a good looking menu. My friends order food but my eye is drawn to the milkshake.

Let me pause here, because this is important. There are two ways to make a chocolate milkshake. One of them is traditional and how the milkshake was born, and the other is the incorrect, Baskin Robbins way to make a milkshake. The correct way to make a chocolate shake is to use vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and whole milk. The incorrect way is the same but with chocolate ice cream. I assume that the idea is that it makes it more "chocolate" tasting. It doesn't, since chocolate ice cream tastes nothing like chocolate, it just makes it taste weird.

I have found, that if I assume a place will make my shake correctly is usually the instance in which I wind up with a shake made with chocolate ice cream, so I have learned to specify that I would like a chocolate shake made with vanilla ice cream.

So hipster waitress comes over, funny shaved half head thingy hairdo and multi-colored yoga workout gear on. When she gets to me I say "chocolate shake made with vanilla ice cream" to which she sticks out her tongue, and makes an "ugh" noise as if I have either said I hate Jews or asked her to reconstruct the Great Wal of China using toothpicks. I notice her after she leaves, causally ignoring all customers and hanging out in the back of the joint, only to go talk to her group of friends at a booth at length about her band.

Our food comes in a bit, and afterwards my shake, in all of its glory, made with chocolate ice cream. Amanda notices just by the look and says "that's made with chocolate isn't it", to which I reply "yup" without even having to taste it. Could have chalked this up to a mistake, although an embarrassing one on behalf of the restaurants ability to properly take and execute their customer's order correctly, except for when our "waitress" came back 10 minutes later, look at me with a little squinty gleam in her eye and asked me in a slightly sarcastic, slightly triumphant tone "how's that milkshake?" before walking off.

Albeit five dollars, I'm your customer, and this is my money I am handing over. I didn't ask for anything crazy, and instead of being treated with respect, I was mocked and purposefully given something I didn't want. This is the part where I threaten everyone to stay off my lawn, but had this been an authentic diner, operated by people who work in food service because they are emotionally fulfilled by making their patrons fulfilled, (then they would have made the shakes right in the first place and I never would have had to specify) servers with this kind of attitude would be thrown out on their ass. Look, I know you worked hard to make you outfit look like you dug it out of the trash, and I am sure that working in the diner in Echo Park where they play indie rock all day long does wonders for furthering your band's career, but it does a huge dis-service to anyone looking to get a satisfactory eating experience.

My opinion on work in the food service industry has changed completely since I was a teenager, and I now see it as one of the most important, and if done in the right environment, rewarding careers that one can have. I am currently considering quiting a great job to go serve BBQ to people. This place has the potential to be one of the greatest places to work and to eat, a truly unique atmosphere, but if you let your snarky irony get in the way of SERVING your customers, well then, fuck you. This goes for pretty much every place I have eaten in LA. I should not have to impress you to get good food service, I should only need to be hungry and have cash in my pocket.

The Countdown...

I leave for Europe in less than a week. I haven't done the research that my tummy demands of me to know where to go for the best (bacon) food. Since the entire nature of my trip is that of flying blind, I feel that to research too much would dishonor the spirit of the journey. I'm ready for you Madrid.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I learned how I DON'T like to travel

For my Spring Break this year, I made the silly decision to take a free school trip up to the bay area to look at college campuses. Three days on a bus, 4 campuses, too many fast food meals and 50 other people who were mostly at least 10 years younger than me later, I have realized that I cannot be herded around like this, no matter what the purpose may be. I had to explain to an 18 year old why the Transformers movie was a worthless piece of garbage (please stay tuned for that post on discriminating taste that will come at some time in the future), and I was told that I was "mean" for asking a young woman to get out of the seat next to me and return to hers which she had previously plopped herself into to have asinine conversations with a girl sitting in the next row.

What I did get out of the experience was the purchase of a new tobacco pipe. I already have the pipe that my grandfather used, but I thought it would be nice to have one that I was the only person to ever smoke out of it. Now I can experience the continuation, and the implementation of tradition. I bought tobacco and grabbed some matches, and one of the only calming moments of this trip came that night as I stepped out of the hotel out into the cold night air of San Francisco and lit my pipe for the first time. a lifetime of fantasies of being an English gentleman, sitting in a private library next to the fire smoking a pipe were immediately realized, and I was completely satisfied with my purchase.

This beautiful illusion was soon shattered though by being forced to eat a meal on the SFSU campus. Blech.

It doesn't always work

While I encourage anyone to take cooking "by the horns" as it may, meaning to just sort of jump into it blind and cook "by feel", there are times when I would have been better off following some sort of instructions.

Recently I really wanted some shrimp that gave me a taste of garlic, lemon and lime. Something fresh and light tasting. I bought some shrimp and chopped up a few cloves of garlic, then threw them into a container with the freshly squeezed juice of 3 limes, 1 lemon and 1/2 an orange. I let this all chill together while I made some rice and then I heated up some olive oil and threw the shrimp into it once warmed to the proper temperature (that is a lie, I don't know how hot the oil was).

What happened? Some of the juice from the marinade went into the pan too and immediately lowered the cooking temperature, giving me not a searing on the shrimp, but a kind of boiling instead. When I went to eat them, the texture was all wrong and the taste was very strong of nondescript citrus flavors. I only ate one of them.

Now, at this point I take back that I still wouldn't stand behind my method of ignorant cooking, because through this experience I learned a couple of things NOT to do while cooking shrimp. This I believe, will be highly valuable in the future.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Meatballs Meatballs Meatballs

I had been having a hankerin for really good meatballs for a few months, and I decided that the only way I would get what I wanted was to make them myself. I had no experience with meatballs but I had a rough idea of how they should be made, so I sort of just went for it. Here's what I used:

1/3 pound each of ground beef (22% fat), pork and veal.
about 3/4 a cup of Italian bread crumbs
about half a finely chopped white onion
about 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
a bit of chopped parsley (this was probably unnecessary and I will skip it next time)
1 egg
Salt & Pepper

I mixed this all by hand and formed 8 rather large meatballs, which I then browned in the cast iron skillet with some olive oil.

While the meat was browning, I started my sauce which consisted of:

1 can of whole tomatoes
1 can of crushed tomatoes
Half of a finely chopped, white onion, sauteed in olive oil
2 cloves of chopped garlic
Salt & Pepper
Freshly chopped basil

The sauce has to simmer for an hour, and the meat took 20 minutes to brown. When the meatballs were sufficiently browned I plopped them into the sauce the for the remaining 40 minutes.

I have to say, these came out as good as any I have had in a restaurant. I ate this meal for two days straight and still have some in the freezer. I might tweak things a bit here or there, but I think I have found my meatball recipe. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

And Two Days Later...

the travel agency who is booking the study abroad trip called and said they had received my payment, and that attendance was low and the program may be cancelled, so I shouldn't buy my plane ticket just yet.


so now i wait and see. i am not particularly disturbed though, because I have a plane ticket, so I'm going either way. Just depends on if I get to travel on my own for 2 weeks or 6.

come to think of it, maybe i should begin a prayer campaign that the trip is cancelled.

i need to go learn how to pray.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Tickets Are Purchased

After much debating back and forth in my head, my fingers took over and clicked the "purchase" button on U.S. Airway's website. I will be attending the study abroad program for the month of June in Madrid Spain, and then I will spend two weeks making my way by foot, thumb and rail to Barcelona, Alessandria Italy, Paris and thereabouts, until I find myself leaving from the London area.

Now that the deal is done, I feel only excitement about the adventure. I want to eat and drink all that Europe has to offer me. I can only imagine that I will be writing about my adventures as I go.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Birthday Nights

So it was a friends birthday, and she arranged a nice little evening spent in LA doing what people in LA should be doing, attending movie screenings at the Egyptian with Director attended Q&A, wine, and eating two meals.

After getting lost, and eating a fantastic meal of Scooby's hot dogs, Mexican Coke (in the bottle) and french fries that were a real potato just minutes before we ate them, we entered the theater to watch George Washington, the first film by David Gordon Green, who would next go on to make All The Real Girls (one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful movies ever made). This film had all the atmosphere of his later works, and it was great to see his style of film-making evolve. Watching this movie I was struck with how important and relevant film is to my life. It expresses and connects feelings I experience that I cannot begin to describe, but when I see images on that screen, I find I don't need to convey ideas with words. 

The director Q&A at the end went from cute to awkward to dull to tolerable, but I had left the theater by the time the tolerable portion rolled around. After this we capped off our night at Canters with food that was wholly unnecessary. I find the time so rarely these days when I can go out and have a night to spend with friends, it was another reminder of the import things in life. That's two in one day, friends and movies, and especially friends who "get" the things that are important to you, which brings me to my next topic that will be covered another day, discerning taste. Please tune in for that little nugget.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mastering the Sauce

This week, I successfully made two sauces from scratch, both with a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach.

The first was a pan sauce to accompany my steak. I de-glazed the pan I cooked the meat in with Maker's Mark Bourbon, then I added a bay leaf, assorted peppercorns and heavy cream. The sauce was simple, yet highly effective in making beef peppery and delicious. This was the first time I have made this sauce and I must say that I was proud.

Tonight I went for sauce improvisation part two, and utilized more of the cream. I made an Alfredo sauce with pasta and grilled chicken. I started the sauce by melting some butter in a pan, then sauteing some garlic and shallots , to which I added freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and finely chopped fresh parsley. I threw in a bit of salt at the end, but that's it. It takes a while to reduce the sauce to the right consistency, and you have to continuously stir with a whisk, but it's a fairly easy sauce to make and the outcome was honestly about as good as anything as I've paid lots of money to eat at a restaurant. 

A friend asked me to help her cook so she can get more comfortable with it, saying she messed up easy recipes. The thing is, I mess up recipes too. I think a lot of the time they are poorly written, or just plain incorrect when it comes to their proportions or measurements. Sure, there are some things that should be precise, like, uh, ok fuck it 99% of cooking can be done by feel. And that is my wisdom for the day, I encourage anyone with an interest to just mess around with food. You start to get an idea or what ingredients make sense in which dishes, and then cooking becomes a trial and error journey. Sometimes, that journey ends with delicious food, and that's worth any flubs you might encounter along the way.


I believe I should start by stating the purpose for this blog. I see a lot of things in everyday life that cause me to stop and ponder my place in the world. Nine times out of ten these observations cause me to form an opinion, and I have come to the conclusion that these little nuggets of critical thinking should not be lost upon the masses.

Before you go accusing me of high horsedness, please understand that these are my opinions, and everyone has a right to express their own. Having said that, it is my opinion that mine (opinions) may be of more value than others. So you have a choice, you can read this because it amuses you to find others who share your distain with, oh say, Amy Winehouse, bad indie rock trends in fashion (sideways belt anyone?), or intelligent design. Perhaps you will read this because you completely disagree with everything I say and you like to be infuriated. I believe then, that you are an A-hole for wasting your time in such a fashion.

Mostly, I am doing this because I find that venting opinions about random occurances gets them out of my head and leaves more room for memorizing scientific names of Native California plants and animals.